The Many Faces of Healthcare: Registered Dietitian

Welcome back to The Many Faces of Healthcare series! Today’s post was written by the incomparable Kirsten Capp of the popular blog When discussing healthcare, it is a great reminder that the medical field is not for everybody, and within the medical field there are positions that do not suit everyone. There are many areas where we need to improve in differing aspects such as communication, teamwork and understanding each other and our roles. This will, obviously, greatly be dependent on where you work and who you work with. The following regards the frustrations which can occur between different roles in healthcare and how it can affect the individual.

Guest written by Kirsten Capp:

When I was first approached to contribute my story for this series I wasn’t quite sure where to start. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say when it came to the topic of frustrations and things that have helped or hurt my quality of care when it came to my patients. I have plenty to say on that front. Let me preface this by saying that I have not worked in clinical care since 2013. My short-lived experiences were enough to turn me off to the entire notion of hospital care. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

I started out in a completely different career path as an art/graphic design major before switching to a science-based degree and majoring in dietetics, so I could become a registered dietitian. Part of me knew that clinical care wasn’t for me, especially with my artistic background. I knew I would be unfulfilled in clinical care but in order to become a dietitian, I had to complete a 9-month, 1200-hour unpaid clinical dietetic internship. So, I sucked it up and applied for internships. Nothing could have prepared me for how traumatizing hospital work would be, though.

First off, the other dietitians were cruel and not compassionate in the slightest, which I found really ironic since they worked in a hospital. Their job was to help others. I had a hard time working with most of them, but what really frustrated me was the hospitals views on patients themselves. They saw patients as numbers. They did not treat them as human beings.

The reason I became a dietitian was to help people. I would often spend extra time with my patients because most of them were sad, lonely, scared, etc. I also mostly worked with elderly patients and their families didn’t visit often. Therefore, I would spend extra time with them to brighten their day. Now I did have an underlying motive, happier patients were more likely to work with me rather than against me when it came to their diet education and lifestyle changes. That, however, wasn’t my sole motivation for spending extra time with my patients. I really wanted to make their hospital stay a bit more pleasant, and if they happened to also eat more because of that then great!

However, the hospital and my preceptors eventually caught on to the fact that I wasn’t just moving from patient to patient. They told me I needed to basically act like a robot and just get through patient after patient and spend as little time with them as possible. Sorry, that’s not gonna fly with me. If it were my family member, I would want the healthcare team spending the extra time. And you know what? Every single patient of mine and their families loved me because I gave my patients that extra attention and quality of care. My preceptors, however, did not see it that way. They just saw it as me wasting time, and they would yell at me. A lot. To the point that I would often go home in tears on a pretty daily basis.

Edited from a photo by ja ma on Unsplash

The other frustrations I had were, I hate to say it, but with some of the nurses, as well. Now let me preface this by saying that not all nurses were bad to work with. I worked with some great nurses and some not so great nurses. I really hesitated to write this portion because I don’t want to get attacked, but there are certain things nurses need to be aware of so that we can all work together to provide the best care for the patient. First off, I would get chewed out a lot for “bothering” the nurses to ask about my patients’ appetites. They told me that I needed to learn how to do my job and to stop bothering them with trivial questions. Ok… part of my job as a dietitian is trying to figure out how my patient is actually* eating, so I know how to adjust their nutrient needs.

I can’t do my job properly and give the patient the quality care they deserve if I don’t have the full picture. Patients and their families tend to lie or bend the truth when it comes to intake. So, I would ask multiple people on the healthcare team in an effort to get a full, accurate picture of how the patient was eating as well, as their bathroom habits (that also effects my recommendations). The problem was that some of the nurses thought I just called them for shits and giggles. Look, I hate calling people so it’s not like I enjoyed this part of my job, and I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t necessary.

Second, we were all there to provide the best care for the patients. Another thing that the nurses I worked with liked to do was diet education, which was technically my job. Now, I understand that some nurses are qualified to give diet education and that’s great. The more people that can help relay the information to the patient the better. However, some patients were not ready to be bombarded with all of the information at once. I mainly worked with newly diagnosed diabetic patients, so it was my job to start them off with basic guidelines to follow and go from there.

While I was educating, I was also gauging how much my patient was understanding and retaining, so I knew just how much information to give them without overwhelming them. The issue was that some of the nurses would often educate the patient with information that I wasn’t ready to give to my patients just yet. I understand that the nurses were trying to help, but I really needed them to understand that I had reasons for giving the information in the manner that I was. Maybe in instances like this where there might be a multi-team approach to the education, it could help for the dietitian and the nurses to discuss the plan for education beforehand so that they are all on the same page.

One part of the team that I think doesn’t get enough recognition are the nutrition service attendants. I became fast friends with them! Not only were they nice to me, but they spent a lot of time with the patients. Therefore, they were able to get a lot of information from them and relay it to me. They were always willing to work with me to help out with the patients. Please don’t ignore the nutrition attendants, they are such valuable members of the healthcare team!

I mentioned that I no longer work in the clinical field, so you may be thinking what do I do? While I worked in the hospital there were several opportunities for me to make infographics and things of the sort to relay nutrition information. The entire healthcare team started calling me the “creative” dietitian because I was particularly good at relaying information in a fun, visually appealing format (hello art/graphic design background). That is when I found my true calling. I found that I do better with working “behind the scenes” as it were.

I now use my social media platforms to share my knowledge about nutrition. I can also reach a lot more people through social media than I could working in the hospital. I have had so many people reach out and tell me how I have helped them in one way or another, be it helping them with overcoming disordered eating, changing the way they view healthy food, or inspiring them get back in the kitchen and learn how to cook again. I love being a dietitian. I just didn’t love being one in the hospital. Maybe if the hospital starts viewing its patients as actual people I will change my tune. For now, though, I am happy with what I’m doing.

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